November 20, 2019

Chairman Risch Opening Statement at Nomination Hearing for Stephen E. Biegun to be Deputy Secretary of State

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today convened a nomination hearing for Stephen E. Biegun to be deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of State.

Chairman Risch gave the following opening statement, as prepared for delivery:

“Today we will consider the nomination of Mr. Stephen Biegun to be deputy secretary of State. Mr. Biegun has a long history of service, with roots here in this very committee. We thank him for the good work he has done as special envoy to North Korea and also for his willingness to continue serving in that position as he takes on this incredibly important role at the State Department.

“With nearly 200 countries across the globe, there is no shortage of important issues which need the attention and leadership of the United States. For the first time in generations, the world is seeing the re-emergence of substantial competitors – Russia where it can, Iran in the Middle East, and China across the world. And, at the same time, people around the world are losing faith in the institutions of their governments.

“Our competitors are willing and, most importantly, able to compete against the United States, and this competition threatens to disrupt the world order that America and our allies created in the aftermath of World War II. That world order, without a doubt, benefited everyone, but especially those who believe in the principles of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, free markets, and free trade.

“These cornerstones of liberty and prosperity are once again under assault as we face global competition from a China that wants to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific and exert deep influence in every other region of the world, and a resurgent Russia that wants to regain the influence it enjoyed during the height of the Cold War.

“At the same time, rogue states like Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela continue to challenge stability in their regions. Collectively, this is an outcome that U.S. foreign policy has always aimed to prevent.

“Of our many challenges, China presents the most substantial competitive threat, and should be the top priority in American foreign policy for the coming decades. The Chinese Communist Party wants China to take what it believes is its rightful place at the center of the international system, and ensure the international system functions according to China’s values and objectives.

“China’s economic and political reach is visible throughout the Indo-Pacific region, and extends across the continent of Africa and throughout Latin America.  Through “One Belt, One Road,” the Chinese government is pursuing significant investments in critical infrastructure and ports around the globe.

“And it’s not just physical infrastructure – China is deeply interested in setting the standards and norms for emerging technologies. That has deep implications for the future economy of course, but also for the human rights and freedoms of individuals around the world.

“It is clear that China does not just present a challenge to American interests – it poses a challenge to the key interests we share with allies and partners. We must be in lock-step with our Indo-Pacific partners, and working with our NATO and European allies will also be key—“brain death” is not an option.

“As I said earlier, there is no shortage of issues that require our attention. In the face of these challenges, U.S. global leadership is critical.  But maintaining that leadership requires more than aid dollars; it requires a robust diplomatic presence that enables us to project our values and interests, and I know our nominee today understands that like no other.

“The State Department is part of the bedrock of our national security. Its diplomats are our eyes and ears on the ground across the globe. These men and women are the tip of the spear for advancing U.S. interests overseas, our first line of defense against malign influences, and a vital lead in negotiations to make sure that our relationships with friends and foes abroad don’t go off the rails.

“We need to make sure that our diplomats are getting the support they need to get outside the walls of our diplomatic posts. I can assure you, Chinese, Russian, and Iranian diplomats don’t have trouble getting off their embassy compounds. 

“In 2019, the stakes are too high to hamstring our national security in this way. We need our people out there, working with our security partners, advancing human rights and the rule of law, and pushing for American business. These are things we simply cannot do very well sitting at a desk behind several layers of security in an embassy.  

“Mr. Biegun’s nomination comes at a pressing time for a range of issues -- for Middle East diplomacy as we pursue maximum pressure against Iran, negotiate for peace in Afghanistan, and continue to apply pressure to the Islamic State.

“Putin continues his pattern of arms control treaty violations, making the way ahead for bilateral arms control with Russia increasingly uncertain. This pattern includes Russia’s ongoing nuclear modernization campaign, which includes new “exotic” weapons it says are not subject to current arms control agreements.

“Russia continues to have a large and modernizing tactical nuclear stockpile which is an asymmetric capability the Russians say is increasingly key to their operations, and which could enable greater Russian aggression in Europe.

“With regard to the Western Hemisphere, there should be no doubt that the United States has an enduring interest in a region that is democratic, prosperous, and secure. I hope the administration will continue its maximum pressure campaign against undemocratic regimes and transnational criminal organizations; work dynamically with partners to safeguard critical institutions from malicious external influence, and heighten support for organizations seeking greater transparency from their governments.

“Additionally, of great relevance today is that South Korea has taken the counter-productive step of moving to end its participation in a key information sharing agreement with Japan. This increases the risk to U.S. forces in Korea, and damages the U.S.-Korea alliance.  In partnership with Ranking Member Menendez, SASC Chairman Inhofe, and Ranking Member Reed, I plan to introduce a resolution urging South Korea to reverse that decision.

“These are just a few of the many challenges facing U.S. foreign policy and global leadership today to illustrate how imperative it is that we have the right person in the role of deputy secretary. Mr. Biegun is that person, and he is more than prepared for this vital role that will touch all aspects of the work our State Department carries out.”

The witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov, as is an archived recording of the full hearing.

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